As Arabs continue to take to the streets in Bahrain, Libya and Yemen risking their lives for the sake of freedom, American Muslims are cheering them on.
From spiritual support through prayers, moral support via tweeting encouraging words to protests calling for justice, American Muslims have become energized especially after the recent falling of the former Tunisian and Egyptian dictators. And while I have been among these voices, be it leading prayers to speaking in the media in support of the democratic liberation struggles of the people in the Middle East and North Africa, I can’t help but see an irony in all of this. The irony is that American Muslims are not taking full advantage of the rights that Muslims overseas are currently dying for to obtain.
In the approximate decade after the tragedy of 9/11, too many American Muslims have either become reclusive, shunning anything that has to deal with political issues that are unpopular among the status quo, or have become apologists. It has even reached the pathetic point with some so-called leaders and voices that they will even feed their own religion to the wolves for an temporary moment of acceptance.
If American Muslims can learn anything from this month, Black History Month ,while reflecting on current world events, it should be quite clear that freedom is not free. There is a price for obtaining rights and not standing up for those principled rights means the eventual lose of them.
There is a cottage industry of anti-Muslim bigots spreading misinformation to (and sometimes with the help of) elected officials. There are people openly writing and calling (including some speakers at the recent CPAC gathering in DC) for stripping constitutional rights from Muslims going to the point of saying that Islam is not a religion, thus it does not enjoy 1st Amendment protection. There is unprecedented trampling of the spirit of the 1st, 4th and 5th Amendments regarding surveillance on mosques and religious leaders without predication to American citizens being detained and blocked from re-entering their own country by the dictates of the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice protocols.
Within the spirit of what is taking place overseas and in the context that American Muslims face, I see there is no other option but for American Muslims to aggressively assert our rights afforded to us under the U.S. Constitution to challenge Islamophobia and injustices perpetrated against the Muslim community. That may mean that more of us may be ridiculed and slandered, that may mean some of us may be “white-listed” from meeting with certain political figures and organizations, that may mean some of us may loose some of our wealth and that may also mean that some of us may loose our lives as Malcolm X did.
Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) said, “The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the disbeliever.”
Imam Zayd bin Ali (RA) said, ” Disgraceful life and honorable death: both are bitter morsels, but if one of them must be chosen, my choice is honorable death.”
American Founding Father Patrick Henry said, “Give me liberty or give me death.”
While we still enjoy our precious rights as Muslims in America, let us exercise them to the fullest. If we can’t stand up for principles here in America, we surely cannot fully and effectively stand up for rights in the Muslim World.